Book Review: Noggin by John Corey Whaley


June pick for the Not-So-YA Book Club


I was so skeptical of this book, the ken doll cover, the premise, everything. I went about trying to figure out the cheapest way to obtain this book (local libraries – all checked, amazon – evil). I ended up buying it on my husband’s iPad – my first full length book to be read on an e-reader (thoughts/feelings/not-so revelations will be discussed in next post).

Here I am, low expectations, trying to get comfortable curling up in bed with e-reader, creepy ken doll staring at me, deep breath, swipe my way to the first chapter and SURPRISE SURPRISE I like it! For those who don’t know, Noggin follows the story of Travis, a 16 year old boy who voluntarily has his head removed from his body to be cryogenically frozen when it was discovered he is dying of cancer. Fast forward 5 years and modern medicine has enabled Travis’ head to be reattached to Jeremy’s (former) body. This all happens in the span of the first 3 pages essentially. I can get into a book that hits the ground running.

So 5 years – not too much time right? Wrong. 5 years is just long enough for all your friends to graduate high school, go to college, become adults, and move on from what seemed like your inevitable death. You wake up, five years having passed in the blink of an eye and suddenly you’re a medical miracle, you’re on every TV station, religious nuts are worshipping you, and your girlfriend is now engaged to someone else. This is Travis’ (and Jeremy’s) new cancer-free life.

On the one hand I enjoyed this novel; it had some truly funny, laugh out loud moments. In one scene Travis finds the ashes of his cancer-ridden body which spill onto the floor and his parents freak out “We can’t use the vacuum on Travis’ ashes!” – I died laughing. On the other hand, I thought the medical technology presented could have dark/sinister applications which were not discussed at all. Epic side note: Please please please go pick up Unwind by Neal Shusterman, an amazing trilogy which explores the dark side to organ transplantation. I did like that in no way did Whaley try to explain how it was possible to attach Travis’ head to Jeremy’s body, it was just presented as scientific fact and as I’ve mentioned before I appreciate when writers don’t try to bullshit fake science. Maybe I’ve just been reading a lot of dystopian over the past couple years, but I would have loved to see the flip side, the menacing side, of this comedy coin.

Travis spends the novel grappling with his unusual situation – he has to go to high school AGAIN, try to win back his former girlfriend, and figure out why his gay best friend is now back in the closet. He has to cope with the fact that his parents, best friend, and girlfriend moved on, leaving him behind because they couldn’t hold on to the farfetched idea that someday he might come back. In their eyes, he was dead and gone for good. I loved the idea of waking up only five years in the future. It presents such an interesting character dynamic because the changes from being a teenager to becoming adult really are significant. That said, Travis got on my last nerve trying to win back his girlfriend and while she definitely encouraged him, it just went on and on and on and on…..

The second to last scene was amazing! I was sniffling (though I do cry at everything) at the tenderness of the moment then there was the final scene and then epilogue and that was it… I was furiously swiping like my life depended on it because clearly the book could not end like that. There must be more swipes! If I had had a physically book I would have been looking for torn pages that’s how abrupt the ending was. And honestly the ending kind of ruined the whole thing for me. Travis didn’t change throughout the entire novel – yes he went from sick cancer teen to only having a head to now having a head attached to a healthy body but that was it. Beyond his physical transformation, there was no emotional transition. While I found the book very entertaining, I’m left feeling rather stagnant at the overall plot progression or lack thereof.

I would recommend this book for the comedy but if you’re looking for any groundbreaking revelations, they aren’t coming.

I am currently reading Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor and I am already in love with this beautiful novel. I swear I will finally start Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness because she is coming to Atlanta in July to promote her new book (FINALLY) The Book of Life, the final novel in her historical/witchy/magical All Souls trilogy. I also have tickets to see Veronica Roth and Marie Lu in Atlanta in July as well! Yay for a summer of reading!



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